Independent in All Things, Neutral in Nothing

Toyota’s Plan to Repair Its Public Image

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In today’s Washington Post, Toyoda Akio, Toyota’s president, promises a number of changes and improvements to its car manufacturing processes and safety. Toyota has faced widespread criticism of its safety defects, and especially of its response. Unfortunately, Mr. Akio’s op-ed will not likely blunt this criticism.

While Mr. Akio and Toyota probably did not choose the headline of the op-ed, it makes readers think Toyota cares more about its public image than about fixing its true problems. Worse, readers could even get the impression that Toyota sees the damage to its public image as its real problem.

Mr. Akio’s solutions contain a mix of real fixes and one designed to assuage government regulators. The Automotive Center of Quality Excellence and the blue-ribbon safety panel appear more like sugar public image spin than real improvements. Likewise, his notion of better connecting ‘the dots between problems’ smacks of smoothing the surface instead of making tough fixes. Ever since Malcolm Gladwell wrote the article ‘Connecting the Dots’ in the New Yorker, businesspeople have found it fashionable to talk about how they ‘connect the dots’ in their business. We shall see if Toyota can, in fact, ‘connect the dots.’

His third promise, to “more aggressively investigate complaints we hear directly from consumers,” sounds more substantial. But, of course, the effectiveness of this will depend on the particulars of ‘aggressively investigate.’

Mr. Akio wisely reminds readers that, while the Japanese own Toyota, the company has a big economic presence in the United States. As the unions hammer government to punish Toyota for these quality failures, lawmakers and regulators should remember the company has deep roots and economic ties to this country. Thousands of Americans depend on Toyota for their livelihood.

However, in the final analysis, Mr. Akio gives rise to more questions than he answers. His article betrays the one of first rules of communications: communications cannot solve problems. They are solved through improved operations or planning or execution. And, Mr. Akio’s op-ed demonstrates that Toyota cares more about the image aspects of the problem than the problem itself. Mr. Akio’s article deserves the headline it has, whether he consciously chose it or not.


Written by Russell S.

February 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm

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